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Why the NHL plans to stick with the controversial offside challenge

PITTSBURGH − You want some changes made for next season on the coach’s challenge for offside? Forget it. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman staunchly defended the rule and its enforcement during his annual session with reporters Monday prior to Game One of the Stanley Cup final.

Asked by The Buffalo News if he was concerned about the way successful offside challenges are taking away offense on calls that are made with razor-thin margins, Bettman reiterated his feeling the new rule “achieved the objectives we hoped” by getting calls right.

“The fact is the game has never been faster, never been more competitive or entertaining,” Bettman said in Consol Energy Center. “The notion that we call back a goal because there’s a toe over the line − the rule is the rule. And I have no doubt if we didn’t get it right that that toe was over the line, there would be a lot of screaming about the fact we got the call wrong.”

Bettman pointed to a goal by Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin in Game Six of the Eastern Conference final that was wiped out by a tiny margin on replay as an example of the system working.

“Everybody in Pittsburgh would have been screaming if we didn’t get the call right,” Bettman said. “Whether or not we use video replay, there are so many cameras television has that they get to see. The better question is do you want to have an offside rule? I’m not advocating that we should get rid of the offside rule but the notion the rule was only violated by a little. … either you enforce the rule or you don’t.

“If we don’t get it right and say, ‘It was only over by a little,’ then the other team and its fans and everybody watching the game is going to say, ‘How are you enforcing the rules?’”

Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said there are no material rule changes planned for next year. General managers meeting in March did not raise any issues with the coach’s challenge.

“I don’t think there was this large hue and cry with respect to the offside rule and it needing to change,” Daly said. “I can’t tell you what the opinion might be since then, but I don’t believe currently we’re anticipating any material rule changes going into next year.”

Bettman spent much of his time discussing expansion and the NHL’s participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. He reiterated that the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation have to pick up the costs for travel and insurance, believed to be in the neighborhood of $10 million, for NHL players to attend. The IOC and IIHF have covered that tab in the NHL’s five previous Olympics.

“I have no doubt that it will have a significant impact on our decision,” Bettman said. “ … I’m pretty sure that our teams are not really interested in paying for the privilege of disrupting our season but we’ll have to see what they ultimately decide what to do.”

Bettman said the June 22 meeting of the Board of Governors in Las Vegas would likely be the decisive meeting on expansion, likely to Las Vegas. Bettman said the board could decide to defer expansion, reject it or move forward with it.

“I am not going to handicap what’s going to happen,” he said.

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Daly says the salary cap for next year will be “relatively flat” and may not jump much from this year’s figure of $71.4 million.

Daly said if expansion is approved, players with no-trade clauses can be exposed and only players will full no-movement clauses cannot. A potential Las Vegas team would be entered into the draft lottery at undetermined odds and not preassigned a draft position.

Bettman said the 2016-17 NHL schedule will be released on June 20 or 21, prior to the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas (June 22) and the draft in First Niagara Center (June 24-25).

The top prospects in the draft are in Buffalo for this weekend’s NHL Scouting Combine, and will head to San Jose to watch Game Four of this series on Monday night.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com